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US troops forced to use gas masks near Mosul

Military helicopters carry coalition troops from Nineveh Joint Operations Command headquarters to various parts of Mosul, on October 19, 2016.
US Military helicopters carry troops to the Middle East, on October 19, 2016. [File photo]

US forces at Iraq’s Qayyarah West airfield near Mosul are wearing protective masks after winds brought fumes from a nearby burning sulphur plant set ablaze during fighting with Daesh, US military officials said today.

The Qayyarah West airfield, about 30 kilometres south of Mosul, is the main US hub to support Iraqi-led and US-backed operations to retake the city from Daesh. There are about 5,000 US troops in Iraq but the US military has not disclosed the number of personnel at the airfield.

“The winds have actually shifted south, so, as a precautionary measure, the troops at Qayyarah West have donned their personal protective equipment – continuing their operations at this point in time,” an official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately clear if the troops had been ordered to wear the protective gear or if they had elected to, a second official said.

The main concern was avoiding potential respiratory ailments resulting from inhaling the fumes. Air samples from Qayyarah West were sent to the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency for analysis as to “what, if any concerns, may result,” the second official said.

The officials said Daesh set the sulphur plant ablaze two days ago during fighting around Al-Mishraq, which is south of Mosul. Iraqi Security Forces estimate it will take 2-3 days to put out the blaze, the US official said.

A Reuters photographer on the southern front yesterday saw plumes of smoke rising from the sulphur factory, filling the air with toxic gasses.

Where is Mosul?

Mosul is the second biggest city in Iraq. It is located in the north of the country.

What is happening there?

Since June 2014 it has been under the control of Daesh.

What’s happening now?

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by an international coalition which is led by the US, are battling to recapture the city from Daesh.

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